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Archive for September, 2010

Oh man am I looking for easy these days.  Easy and about oh, zero ingredients since we are packing up our entire house and that means clearing the fridge of its contents.  This recipe uses only ingredients that I almost always have on hand.

It’s totally simple.  I think I was drawn to try it mostly because it reminds me of a dish I used to rder every once in a while from Coco Pazzo Cafe back when I worked a block away from it.  A chicken paillard served with a fresh helping of greens, goat cheese and grapes.  No carb-heavy side offered.  No need to sauce it up.  Just simple, fresh food.

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Lemon and Oregano-Rubbed Chicken Paillards
From cookinglight.com
Serves 4

4  (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
5  teaspoons  grated lemon rind
1  tablespoon  olive oil
1 1/2  teaspoons  dried oregano
3/4  teaspoon  kosher salt
1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1/4  teaspoon  water
2  garlic cloves, minced
Cooking spray
4  lemon wedges
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh parsley

Prepare grill.

Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin.

Combine lemon rind and next 6 ingredients (through minced garlic); rub evenly over both sides of chicken. Place chicken on a grill rack coated with cooking spray, and grill 3 minutes on each side or until chicken is done. Remove from heat. Squeeze 1 lemon wedge evenly over each chicken breast half. Sprinkle parsley evenly over chicken.

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With the chill in the air and a sweater on today, doesn’t it just seem like the perfect day for comfort food? And what better way to end the meal than to tuck into a bowl of warm bread pudding.

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I’ve long been a cupcake fanatic.  I know it’s uber-trendy, but I just don’t care.  I’ve loved vanilla on vanilla since I was a little girl.  Something that comes in that flavor combination and is perfectly portioned and decadently decorated was made for me.  While nothing will ever beat a vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream, I’m game to try almost any combination (after all, you can always eat two, right?).  My friend Em shares my love of cupcakes (she goes for chocolate) but we have long debated the best cupcake in the city.  Turns out she was having this same never-ending conversation with a few other friends as well and thus an idea was born.

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(Sweet Mandy B’s cupcakes)

The mission? To decide once and for all where the best cupcake in this city can be found when the craving hits. The idea was to spend a night trolling the town for cupcakes. But let’s get real. We each have kiddos at home, finding a date that worked for everyone was hard enough, and finding parking all over the city seemed anti-climatic. So this crawl turned into a cupcake war where each lady was assigned a cupcake shop and asked to pick-out some basics and some specialty cupcakes.

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(MORE cupcakes)

6 Ladies. 6 cupcake lovers.  5 cupcake shops.  4 bottles of wine.  32 cupcakes.

Let me say it again: 6 ladies, 32 cupcakes. The final conclusion? We fought a war on the cupcakes but the cupcakes won.

What were we thinking?? We were thinking we were a lot more pro at heavy-sugar-ingestion than we were.

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(Swirlz Cupcakes)

Despite stomach aches for several and the fact that 12 cupcakes went home without even being tasted I’d say any night is a success where that many cupcakes are consumed.

So here were the final conclusions:
the Salted Caramel Cupcake from Southport Grocery and Cafe (not even a cupcake specialty shop) took top honors. Many also felt it had the best vanilla on chocolate and vanilla on vanilla, though the appearance was slightly underwhelming in comparison.
the lemon cupcake with lemon cream cheese frosting from Sweet Mandy B’s was the surprise of the night, convincing several who would never have picked a citrus cupcake.
Sweet Mandy B’s will always be my top-rated shop for their buttercream frosting, but Molly’s Cupcakes chocolate cake blew Sweet Mandy B’s chalky comparison out of the water.
Swirlz is better known than most, but is definitely outrated and outranked in flavor by many others.
And
More, a downtown hotspot that demonstrated far more friendliness than anticipated, pulls out some astonishingly artistic cakes.  Unfortunately the beauty of the cupcakes far outreach the flavor.

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Zucchini can be bad, just bad.  I’ve had bad before and I’ve made bad before.  One thing I’ve learned is to always salt my zucchini and let it sit for ten minutes releasing water before blotting it with a paper towel.  Less water = tastier zucchini and better texture.  Another thing I’ve learned is that I don’t think this vegetable needs much cooking time at all.  I steer away from any recipes that have you roast for long periods, opting for barely cooked options that highlight the grill or a quick saute.  Oh and lastly I’ve learned that zucchini and lemon are like husband and wife.  Never should they be separated (in my kitchen).

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So now that I’ve told you my zucchini recipe criteria you can pretty much guess that I liked this zucchini salad.  Short cooking time?  Check.  Lemon?  Check.  Added salting and blotting step?  Check.  Extra almond crunch?  Mmmh.  And this recipe is so durn quick that I’ve only thrown it together oh about 4 times in the last month.  And anything that appears even once a month in my kitchen can be considered a staple.

Zucchini Salad with Lemon, Almonds and Parmesan
Taken from Love and Olive Oil
Makes 4 side servings

1 medium lemon
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp salt
2 lbs small zucchini, cut into lengthwise slices
1/2 cup sliced (or chopped) almonds, toasted
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Zest the lemon and set aside the zest. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a small bowl. Add oil, pepper, and salt, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat until hot. Oil the grilling surface and grill zucchini slices, turning once, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.

Arrange the zucchini on a platter and drizzle with the reserved lemon dressing. Serve sprinkled with almonds, cheese, and lemon zest.

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We like to get our fajita on regularly in this household.  Many times that means cleaning out the leftover meat in the fridge and combining it with a homemade fajita spice mix.  Fajita spices can save almost any bland or tough meat when you let the flavors marry in a skillet for a bit and you’re left with tasty, tasty fare whether you liked the original meat or not.

Sometimes fajitas have nothing to do with salvaging leftovers and everything to do with the fact that we just love almost anything rolled up in a tortilla.  These fajitas are no exception because not only did we love them, but they prove my point that almost anything rolled in a tortilla is delicious.  Sweet potatoes for example.  Sweet potatoes that I normally eat dutifully because they are good for me but not because I like that oddly sweet starch.  But these fajitas can make me look forward to sweet potatoes.  And poblanos and chorizo because everything in this roll-up is delicious.

Chorizo, Poblano, and Yam Fajitas with Lime-Marinated Red Onions
Adapted from epicurious.com
Yield: 4 servings

1.5 cups paper-thin slices red onions
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cups 1/2-inch-thick sticks peeled yam (red-skinned sweet potato)
12 to 14 ounces hard chorizo or andouille sausage
2 fresh poblano chiles,* halved, seeded, cut into thin strips
8 7- to 8-inch-diameter flour tortillas
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Toss onions and generous sprinkle of salt in medium bowl. Mix in lime juice. Set aside to marinate, tossing occasionally.

Meanwhile, place yam in microwave-safe bowl. Add splash of water. Cover; cook on high until tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

Sauté chorizo in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through. Transfer chorizo to bowl or plate.  Add chiles to skillet along with a splash of evoo if chorizo has not created much oil. Cover and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Drain yam; transfer to skillet. Add chorizo and toss 1 minute to rewarm filling.

Cook 1 tortilla at a time directly over gas flame or in skillet until heated, 10 to 15 seconds per side.

Arrange tortillas on work surface. Spoon filling in strip down center of each. Top with cheese, onions, and sprinkle of lime marinade. Fold in sides of tortillas.

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Cinnamon Cupcakes

The Labor Day cupcakes I was telling you about.  I started these cupcakes feel ho-hum about them.  I knew it had to be cupcakes for this event because it involved my friend Emily.  And I had visions of fantastical cupcakes creations and sugar plum fairies and the whole lot.  But I didn’t have a lot of time and what time I did have, I wanted to spend with Nate & Canaan.  So these cupcakes were my compromise that left me feeling a little bit dissatisfied … until they started coming together and I started licking the batter.

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They might not “do it” for the avid chocoholic in your group but these little guys that capitalize on an ingredient not often paired with cakes and cupcakes can hold their own.  That might have a lot to do with the frosting, though.  The cream-cheese laden, cinnamon-spiked frosting that allows you to put enough of it on top of the cupcake to almost collapse the cake itself.  Yes, that will do just fine.  I’ve always found a cupcakes gets better with every extra inch of frosting used.

The cakes themselves are moist and relatively light.  I’m not sure how much I noticed their flavor as I did the texture.  That’s not because the flavor was bad, it’s just that the frosting is the star.  I was skeptical of the orange zest as I’m not often a fan of adding citrus to my cakes, but decided to try the recipe in true form the first time.  Upon pulling the cakes from the oven and taking a sample bite (of course!) I found myself wishing I’d followed my instinct to leave it out.  But by the time they were cooled and garnished with frosting, the orange was mellow enough to convince even me that this cupcake was still A-okay.

Cinnamon Cupcakes
Taken from Annie’s Eats, she adapted from A Southern Grace

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. salt

½ cup whole milk

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 large eggs

¾ cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. grated orange zest

½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line a 12-cup cupcake pan with paper liners.  Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl.  Stir milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat just until butter melts; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar until thick enough for the batter to fall in a heavy ribbon when the beater is lifted, about 5 minutes.  Beat in orange peel and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture; beat just until blended.  Beat in the milk-butter mixture just until blended.  Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners.  Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 16-18 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the frosting, cream the butter and the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until very smooth.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing.  Add the vanilla extract and cinnamon and mix until incorporated.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, and keep adding until you reach the desired consistency and sweetness.  Frost cooled cupcakes.

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It seems I skipped ahead to Fall too quickly, passing by some summer salads. That last Peach & Prosciutto salad could certainly never makes it debut in January. And neither could this salad with watermelon as the star. I’d be accused of taunting and teasing.

It took my tongue a minute to wrap itself against this flavor combination.  The bitter herbs, the salty cheese; both flavors just hearty enough to make their appearance amongst the strong watermelon flavor.   For something so full of water, you wouldn’t imagine the flavor to be so strong, but it is.  This makes the use of arugula imperative as something such as spinach would be lost completely.  But in the end I found myself a fan.

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Arugula, Watermelon, and Feta Salad
From Ina Garten on foodnetwork.com
Serves 4

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup minced shallots (1 large)
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups baby arugula, washed and spun dry
1/8th seedless watermelon, rind removed, and cut in 1-inch cubes (I believe I used less, though who can tell when watermelons are sized so differently?)
12 ounces good feta cheese, 1/2-inch diced
1 cup (4 ounces) whole fresh mint leaves, julienned

Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, shallots, honey, salt, and pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly, to form an emulsion. If not using within an hour, store the vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator.

Place the arugula, watermelon, feta, and mint in a large bowl. Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to coat the greens lightly and toss well. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately.

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